When I told people I was going to spend my summer in Paraguay, I got mostly blank looks. Unlike Jessica’s panic-inducing internet search results for Nigeria, my results were mostly, well, nonexistent. After all, Paraguay doesn’t have Machu Picchu or the “most dangerous road in the world”. It doesn’t have Patagonia or the Galapagos. No Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. Mostly it’s just an unknown country with a name similar to Uruguay. Paraguay? That’s the one in the middle of South America or on the coast? Reminds me of when I moved to California from New Hampshire, a small state often confused with it’s more progressive neighbor, Vermont. NH? That’s the one that’s big on the top or the bottom?
But Paraguay has a unique place in South America. As one of only two landlocked countries (Bolivia is the other), it is often referred to as the Heart of South America. It’s one of the most homogenous countries in Latin America – with most of the population ethnically mestizo (mixed Spanish and indigenous Guarani Indian descent). Most people speak a mix of Spanish and Guarani, which makes understanding the language here, for those who are auditorially challenged such as myself, something to get used to! It’s also one of the poorest countries in South America, and this is where Fundacion Paraguaya comes in.
While readers of Lonely Planet may not flock to Paraguay, anyone interested in microfinance is immediately drawn to Fundacion Paraguaya (FP). FP has an intern program for interested individuals from around the world, and this is the group I am currently living with. A dynamic group including University students and Fullbright scholars, representing multiple countries, they have come to learn about FP and microfinance in Latin America. And FP has much to teach. I have much to learn.
And so, after 30 hours of travel and 4 days on the ground, I am acclimating once again to life in the developing world. Hard work and lots of play…bustling work weeks and sleepy weekends. By far the hardest challenge so far has been the abrupt switch from summer to winter. I think I have the distinction of being the Kiva fellow located the furthest south of the equator (someone correct me if I’m wrong), and I have to admit I’m a little envious of these hot and sweaty blog entries ☺